Running your first design sprint can be daunting for anyone.

Maybe your company is small, and it was easy to get people on board. Or maybe you’ve spent weeks convincing upper management to try it out. Or you’ve jumped through hoops to find that one week when everyone’s available.

Either way, you want your first design sprint to be a positive experience for everyone.

I’ve run enough design sprints to know there are many things that could go wrong, so preparation is crucial. In case you missed it, I wrote the basics of design sprint that covers the foundation of a sprint. Below I’ve written the top questions that you’re probably wondering about before you start your first design sprint.

1. How big of a problem should I tackle in my first design sprint?

Firstly, make sure the most appropriate way to solve the issue is through a design sprint. You don’t want to spend 5 days on a small issue that could’ve been solved in one or two meetings. But you also don’t want to tackle a huge area of your product that everyone gets overwhelmed.

As a guidance, your problem should be important and specific, that you could potentially produce a solution within a week. Examples include:

  • Designing the home page of your ecommerce website.
  • Redesigning a product feature that has gotten mixed reviews.
  • Designing scheduling and booking process for your app.

But chances are you won’t know what a specific problem looks like if this is your first time. Just go with what you think is the best problem to solve. During the sprint, you will quickly realise whether the issue is too broad, too small, or just right.

The whole idea behind a design sprint isn’t to build the perfect solution. It’s about embracing the concept of continuous improvement. Every design sprint brings you one step closer to an ideal solution.

2. Do I need full 5 days to run a design sprint?

Yes, since this is your first time. Although you can condense sprints into 3 or 4 days, I’d advise against taking a short cut until you’re comfortable running them. And make sure everyone is fully focused on the sprint throughout. Don’t let participants do any other work unless it is urgent.

3. What if I’m missing a writer or a designer for prototype design?

This can happen if your company outsources the prototype and product development. In this case, you can invite them to be part of your design sprint. If this isn’t possible, go with your best available person who can write or design, even if their skills aren’t at a professional level.

Based on my experience, most CEOs, founders, product managers, and marketers are not bad at writing or designing. If you’re working with an agency or consultant, they should be able to source someone for you. Our agency, Relab, will “lend” a designer to assist in your design sprints.

Digital design prototype

4. What do I need to prepare for the design sprint?

The more you prepare, the more likely your first design sprint will be a success.

  • Gather all data and research on your users, market, and current user journey map. Together they paint a current situation where everyone can start off on the first day.
  • Ensure you have plenty of stationery for the 5 days – stickers, paper, marker, sharpie, pen, and enough wall space to showcase your ideas and discussions. If you’re using a virtual whiteboard, try Miro or Mural
  • Brief everyone so they understand what a design sprint is, the schedule, their roles, and what is expected of them. A sprint is only as successful as the cooperation and enthusiasm of the participants.
  • A “just nice” schedule with enough breaks, and plenty of snacks and drinks.

5. Do I need to recruit users beforehand?

Yes. Don’t leave this to the last minute. You need a minimum of 5 users to test your prototype. Make sure you explain to them what is going to happen, and ensure they are comfortable on the day itself. Snacks and smiles always go a long way.

6. Who should be the facilitator? Is it better for him or her to be internal or someone external?

It’s best when the facilitator is an external third party. They are more likely to be neutral and will have no agenda other than solving the problem in hand. There’s no office politics to deal with or previous issues you need to skirt around.

Otherwise, pick someone neutral internally, who has good communication skills. It’s even better if they have experience running workshops. The design sprint advocate usually ends up being the facilitator. They are usually product managers, UX designers or even an agile coach.

Design Sprint facilitator

7. What type of personality is best for a facilitator?

When selecting a facilitator for your design sprint, you’re looking for someone who is:

  • Somewhat a visionary, who has a great handle on the problem you’re trying to solve. They should be genuinely interested in the users, market, problem, and product.
  • A great listener who can empathise with others. They can tell when someone is enthusiastic, bored, unmotivated, and can steer the session accordingly. They can also extract every idea in the room without glossing over anybody.
  • Quick on their feet, able to improvise and deal with challenges, and plan for the days coming as the session is running.
  • Full of stamina and motivation to control the room over 5 days because it can be tiring. There’s nothing worse than a tired and unenthusiastic facilitator.
  • Fair, doesn’t discriminate, and can rally the participants to work together. This is important not just during the sprint, but after, when you may need to get management buy-ins for your solution.
  • Ideally, with relevant experience designing solutions for similar problems.

8. How should I plan the design sprint agenda for the 5 days?

Here is a sample of a 5-day design sprint agenda:

Day 1 – Mapping

  • Ask questions on goals (1 hour)
  • How might we? (1 hour)
  • Lunch break
  • Interview experts from various teams (1-1.5 hour)
  • Tying in user journey map, goals and how might we? (1 hour)
  • Decide on the focus (0.5 hours)
  • Wrap up (0.5 hours)

Day 2 – Ideating

  • Lightning demo – show and tell of UX/UI inspiration and ideas (2 hours)
  • Lunch break
  • Ideation and sketching (3 hours)

Day 3 – Review, voting and storyboarding

  • Review, Q&A and voting (2 hours)
  • Lunch break
  • Storyboarding for user test and UI flow (3 hours)

Day 4 – Prototyping

  • Build prototype (3 hours)
  • Lunch break
  • Build prototype (2 hours)
  • Review and iterate (1 hour)

Day 5 – Testing and Reviewing

  • User interview and testing (3 hours)
  • Lunch break
  • User interview and testing (2 hours)
  • Review (2 hours)
  • Next steps and wrap up (1 hour)

9. How long should breaks be?

Lunch breaks for Day 1, 2 and 3 are about 1 hour. Morning tea and afternoon tea can be 15-20 mins each.

On Day 4 and 5, I usually leave it to the team to decide on their own breaks. The fourth day is usually intensive, so you may end up eating lunch at your desk if you’re building the prototype.

On Day 5, you will be busy doing back-to-back user testing and interviews. Breaks may be shorter. As long as your users are comfortable, well-briefed and well-fed, the day should run without a hitch.

10. How do you document everything in a design sprint?

In a design sprint, documentation are often photos of your whiteboard and papers with all ideas and discussions. Just assign one person to capture this throughout. If you’re using a software, everything is automatically saved.

For user interviews, all team members should write their own notes. I recommend recording all user testing and interviews, using a camera and screen recording, to avoid missing anything such as facial expressions, reactions, and user behaviour.

After the sprint, our agency will produce a User Interview Feedback report with the next recommended steps if you use our agency, Relab.

11. What if you run out ideas during the sprint?

Design sprints are designed with enough activities to generate ideas, so this is highly unlikely. If this is still happening, it could be the facilitator is not doing enough to extract ideas from everyone in the room or there isn’t enough teamwork. If everyone pitches in, there will be plenty of ideas. In all my design sprints, we tend to have too many ideas that you need to drop a few to make discussions and voting easier.

12. What if you generate a lot of bad ideas?

Technically, only your users can say whether your ideas are bad. That only happens on the last day during user testing. Ideas that are glaringly awful are usually eliminated quickly during sprint activities.

If your users think your prototype was bad, then you know what not to do in your next solution. At the very least, you didn’t spend a lot of money building a product or product feature that your users hate.

Product designer discussions

13. What happens after a design sprint?

After a sprint, you should have a clearer picture on your product, market fit and users. You will have your answers to your burning questions and assumptions. Based on user feedback, you can either have:

  • An efficient failure – your prototype failed to impress or wasn’t useful to your users. You need to learn from this and move on. Review your big picture and problem, rejig your solutions or business model, and run another sprint for it.
  • A flawed success – your prototype was okay but not great. You can review and refine your solution by running iteration sprints or a follow-up sprint. If you’re close to the mark, you may start building your feature or product but make sure you incorporate all user feedback.
  • An epic win – your prototype was impressive, and users love it. You can confidently proceed to product development.

14. How to reduce conflict, stay on the agenda and keep people motivated?

  • Communicate – It’s crucial for everyone to understand the agenda and what to expect. Remind people to be objective, focus on the problem, and get plenty of rest between days.
  • Staying on course – The facilitator is the glue that binds everyone together. Keep an eye out on the clock, give out reminders on the time, and gently pull discussions back to what’s important when they go astray.
  • Reduce conflict – Sometimes, this is unavoidable when you have strong personalities in the room. I usually find that when you ensure their opinions are heard, and let everyone decide on it, then they will eventually be a great team member.
  • Staying motivated – Make people feel important and they will engage throughout. This is partly the facilitator’s job, but mostly it is every participant’s responsibility to listen, respect and include everyone in the sprint.
  • The facilitator – The energy of the facilitator can lift the vibe of the whole room. When he or she leads positively, everyone follows.
  • Food and drinks – Another important tip is to control what your team consumes. I prefer to provide healthy snacks such as nuts, fruits, tea, and coffee instead of chips, donuts, cookies, and soda. The lighter and healthier the snacks are, the better the stamina of the audience.

15. Any last tip?

Trust the design sprint process.

It’s important to outline to the participants on what to expect each day. Here is a typical pattern I see:

  • Day 1: People are excited and can’t wait to get into it. However, at the end of the first day, some may question whether they can achieve anything meaningful out of this.
  • Day 2: This is often the most fun day for most people because they enjoy coming up with ideas and stretching their imagination. By the end of the day, the big picture becomes clearer.
  • Day 3: Some people will start to feel tired and unmotivated, which is normal. After all, you’ve had 2 full days of activities.
  • Day 4: This day is usually a mad rush to build a prototype for users the next day. You will feel exhausted but also happy that the idea is now a tangible prototype.
  • Day 5: You will feel enlightened by the feedback you get by users, which is invaluable. The big picture and next steps are now clear for your product.

Sometimes, the process is more valuable than the outcome. I’ve facilitated sprints where participants were inspired to do bigger things after, like switching careers, pursuing a new field, or even starting a business on their own. The design sprint process can broaden your mind, on a personal and professional level.

I hope these answers will guide you towards a positive first sprint. Don’t worry too much if it fails spectacularly. It will serve as a valuable lesson on how you should approach a problem, your teams, and users.

If you want to learn more, I am releasing a product design course that will guide you through the best way to design your product for users. We will support you after the course through our Slack community, where you can get all your questions answered.

Have fun sprinting.

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.